By Dennis and Barbara Rainey
A life bulging with activity nearly became a trap for our daughter. Rebecca had a natural talent for gymnastics, and I (Barbara) loved watching her perform. But as she progressed in her skills, Dennis and I became concerned about the amount of time she was expected to practice. She would go to the gym after school and not get home until 8:30 at night—three days a week.
It seemed that she was spending more time with her coach and team than with us. If she kept moving to higher levels in gymnastics, she would be away from her family even more. And we knew we needed to spend more time with her as she approached adolescence. On top of that, our oldest daughter, Ashley, was about to enter her senior year of high school, and we didn’t want our family to become fragmented during her final year at home.
When we talked about this with Rebecca, she responded by talking about how much she loved gymnastics and about her dreams and aspirations. But we could also hear the quiver in her voice that said, “I miss you, too.”
After much prayer, agony, and discussion, Dennis and I decided it was time for Rebecca to quit gymnastics. Few decisions have been more difficult. We know other parents have made the opposite decision, and with a different sport or different circumstances, we might not have asked Rebecca to quit.
The bottom line, though, was that we wanted a relationship with our daughter, and we knew that a strong relationship requires time. We wanted our lives and values, not her coaches’, to be the major influence in her life. To continue equipping her for life, we needed Rebecca to be an integral part of our family. Real values drove our decision.
Busyness is a trap that snares many a child and adult. We are a hurried, exhausted, and weary culture. Too many children today are close to overdosing on activities. The opportunities for them to try new things, explore their interests, and develop their abilities and gifts seem unprecedented in history.
Paul Gabriel wrote in Anticipating Adolescence, “Time is needed in these years for leisure, for playing alone and with friends, for allowing the imagination to expand and life to become fuller and more interesting. Without it, social and emotional growth are stunted.”1
Many parents, however, fail to give their children this needed leisure time. Instead, the after-school hours are filled with one activity after another. Then, as their oldest child emerges from the pre-adolescent golden years, they are unprepared for how this busyness will affect the entire family.
If you don’t get on top of this—especially if you have two or more children close in age—your schedules (yours and your children’s) are on a collision course. You will crash. You will be heard mumbling, as you make your fifth taxi run some afternoon, “This is crazy. I’m going insane. How did I get myself into this? We’re never home anymore. We never sit down and eat dinner together. This is destroying our family!”
As children proceed through the teenage years, the problem only grows worse, especially after a child earns his driver’s license. We know of many families who allow the schedules of their children to control their home life to the point where they rarely enjoy a meal together.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with an active life, as long as the right perspective is maintained. Idleness is just as bad as being too busy. Solomon warned, “Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks” (Ecclesiastes 10:18).
But the opposite problem—frenzy—creates a disturbance in our minds and souls that makes it hard for us to “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Do you know how to be still? Does your child? We fear many Christian teens will not be able to hear God speak to them because they’ve not been taught to rest and to listen. They are addicted to activity and external stimuli.
As parents you need to set the course for your preadolescent child while you still have control of the schedule, knowing there is a time around the corner when the activity monster will barge through your front door and eat your time and resources. We encourage you to formulate a mission statement on activities that will set boundaries for the well-being of everyone in your family.
1) Gabriel and Wool, Anticipating Adolescence, p. 194.
Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.